WHEN I was a kid, I remember going to the school library and placing a reservation on the book “Kids Speak 4.” I was one of a long list of children that had placed their name down on the library’s reservation list and I remember the excitement when, after a few weeks, the librarian told me it was finally my turn to borrow the book.
It is unsurprising that so many children wanted to borrow the newest book in the Kids Speak series, they are some of the most popular books in Jewish households across the world. Seeking to educate children through “true” stories, they encouraged good behavior and focused on refining one’s middot (characteristics), engrossing a generation of children with fascinating stories.
The author of this series was the celebrated and feted Israeli Charedi celebrity author Chaim Walder, who this week died, apparently committing suicide, after being accused by more than 20 women of a range of sexual assaults and rapes. For anyone who has read Walder’s books, these allegations were beyond shocking, particularly as Walder had garnered a reputation for being an expert in child counselling through his children’s books and his Center for the Child and Family for children’s well-being in Israel.
When the allegations came out a few weeks ago, the backlash in the Charedi world was unprecedented. Walder was removed without explanation from his weekly column in the Yated Ne’eman newspaper, his books were pulled from the shelves of Charedi bookstores in New York and Jerusalem, and more women came forward with allegations. Shunned by the community that had embraced him and enriched him for decades, and with numerous accusations forthcoming, it seems Walder decided that he didn’t want to deal with the fallout of his actions and shot himself this past Monday.
While this outcome is troubling, my heart goes out to the many victims that Walder allegedly groomed, assaulted and raped. They will never have their day in court and never see him sit it jail if convicted.
The reaction to Walder’s apparent suicide has also been dispiriting. While many segments of the Charedi community sought to distance themselves from Him when the accusations surfaced, his death triggered an avalanche of positive press on Charedi sites like Kikar Shabbat and Yated Ne’eman, which praised his important work with children and lauded his career as an author.
However, I feel that it is important not to lose sight of the real tragedy in this circumstance is. The suffering of Walder’s alleged victims, some of them, just minors when the abuse allegedly took place.
The lauding of his character in mainstream newspapers, which did not note the background to his apparent suicide, also add insult to injury, by ignoring the plethora of pain and suffering he reportedly caused.
There must be no question about this: abusers are often charismatic, talented and charming people. If the accusations were true, Walder represented one of the scariest archetypes of an abuser: the wolf in sheep’s clothing, who provides insight and guidance to children and young people while simultaneously using his charisma and power to rape and assault women, including children.
I was told today that a local senior rabbi in a recent shiur said that you don’t need to discard Walder’s books from your home. I cannot disagree more. The messages in these books have been tarnished by Walder’s alleged abhorrent actions, and I believe they should be removed from the shelves of every single household.
It does not matter that the messages from some of his stories are beautiful or meaningful. To stand with victims is to acknowledge the pain and the suffering that Walder allegedly caused so many people. That he apparently chose to take his own life, instead of facing justice is a choice that he made, one that has tragic outcomes for his family, his children, and the victims he allegedly preyed upon.
If you want to stand with survivors, there is only one thing that can be done. Throw the books out and refuse to read them and perpetuate his legacy. His alleged victims are now robbed of their day in court, the least we can do is to try and show them that we believe them and that we will no longer support his work.
Standing with survivors of sexual abuse must be the absolute concern of our community and disregarding these books will teach your family that no matter who you are, you are never above the law. This lesson will last longer for your children and will last longer than any story in Walder’s books.
Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann is rabbi of the ARK Centre.
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